Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sepias and Allegorical Miniatures

Miniatures painted in sepia are another perplexing form of sentimental jewelry. There is a great deal of disagreement over what exactly a sepia is. I define sepias as miniatures painted in watercolor on ivory in either a shade of gray, brown, or black. The sepia paint may or may not be entirely derived from or include “dissolved” human hair, that is, hair that has been ground into a fine dust with mortar and pestle so as to be fit for a paint base. Like cameos, portraits of individual sitters or more frequently allegories may be painted in sepia. Because sepias depicting mourning allegories are by far the most common, it is generally assumed that all sepias were mourning jewelry. However, this is not the case. Sepias depicting shepherdesses, Greek gods, republican symbolism (personifications of liberty, liberty staff and cap, cornucopias, and other revolutionary insignia), domestic scenes, landscapes, friendship allegories, and risqué copies of French art are also common enough.

The Apotheosis of Daniel Legate, Jr.

Mourning sepia on ivory with mourner dressed in classical garb, a weeping willow, urn, chopped hair ground, and inscription on the plinth, “DANL. LEGATE JUN. OB: 10TH April 1791.” The cameo-like portrait medallions surrounding the memorial were a popular addition to cemetery monuments in the 1790s. The spirit of Daniel Legate reclines wrapped in clouds above the mourner and next to the inscription on the upper left edge, “WEEP NOT FOR ME.” The reverse composed of a hairwork ground covered with tiny gold stars. The hair of the deceased literally forms the heavenly ether, a symbolic union of body and spirit.

Mourning Sepia on ivory, circa 1780, with chopped hair, weeping willow, female mourner dressed in classical clothing, urn, and inscription on the plinth, "In Memory of a Beloved Father, JB.” The reverse is inscribed with the initials, “C.M.B.”

John Barry (fl. 1784-1827) Portrait sepia on ivory of father and daughter, c. 1785, with hairwork.

Charles Hayter (1761-1835) Maternal Allegory
I use the term "allegorical miniature" to denote full color miniatures that otherwise resemble sepias in their visual and thematic composition. This watercolor on ivory miniature, circa 1795, represents a mother with her son, dressed like Gainsborough's "Blue Boy," and daughter, dressed like Lawrence's "Pinky," resting on a bench in an Arcadian landscape.

Hayter served as Teacher of Perspective to Princess Charlotte. The above miniature displays Hayter's short, compact, oblique brush strokes, blue shading to the recesses of the face especially the corners of the eyes, and the blue, green, yellow color scheme borrowed from “Newton’s rainbow” and intended to resonate with “the cold part of the iris” (Hayter 1815). The Maternal Allegory likewise illustrates several of Hayter’s (1815) fourteen enumerated rules to be observed in shading:
Rule 1
The greatest distance in an open scene, with a clear sky, will always be the palest…
3 The nearest objects, or those in the foreground of an open scene, will have the darkest shades…
5 To adapt the picture to the power and properties of the eye, you must, on all occasions, lay as tender, gradual, and imperceptible a shade as possible, at each corner of a square or oblong drawing, blending it sweetly off towards the point of sight, so as to give the surface a concave apperance. The same should be done towards the margin of a circular drawing; always securing this natural concave effect.
6 Always begin with pale tint of the sky and distant masses of shade; and as you approach the foreground, increase the depth of the tint, observing to be light enough at first.
7 When you require additional strength of shade, do not take a darker tint for that purpose, but repeat the use of the original tint; strengthening the shades of all the degrees of distance with its own tint, or the object will press too forward.


Blogger Frances Goodman فرانسيس said...

Glad to see you're back at work. And, now you get a Jordan dot on your map.

11:16 AM  
Blogger weeping sore said...

Do you suppose that the convention of using pink to denote little girls and blue for little boys arose with the Gainsborough paintings?

9:50 AM  
Blogger said...

No. In the late eighteenth century girls also wore blue and some people thought that pink was an especially manly color. However, I've read somewhere that the gender associations of blue for boy and pink for girl became popular when Huntington purchased those two paintings.

3:20 PM  

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